TheOttoman Empire also referred to as the Turkish Empire or just Turkeywas an Asian sultanate founded by the Sunni Muslims, which latertransformed into a caliphate. The Oghuz Turks under the leadership ofOsman Bey founded it in 1299 in the northwestern parts of Anatolia.This region was transformed into an empire through quick expansionadn annexing of the Balkans and Constantinople. Murad the First wasresponsible for the Balkan conquest between 1365 and 1389, withMehmed the Second playing his part on conquering Constantinople laterin 1453. The Ottoman Empire was a very powerful multinationalconstitution made up of people speaking a variety of languages. Thiswas particularly during its height of power during the reign ofSuleiman, the Magnificent. The empire covered West Asia, SoutheastEurope, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Caucasus. Towardsearly 17thcentury, the empire comprised of 32 different provinces and manyother vassal states. For more than six centuries, the empire was atthe middle of interaction between the East and the West, especiallyconsidering the fact it had its capital based in Constantinople.1This paper is an attempt to analyze the rise, growth and fall of theOttoman Empire, including factors that led to its growth such as thesocioeconomic organization, its law and government.

Riseof the Ottoman Empire (1299-1453)

Therise of the Ottoman empire can be dated back to the fall of theTurkish Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in the 14 century after Ertugrul, thefather of Osman the First, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, led atroop of 400 horsemen in aid of the Seljuks of Rum against theByzantines. Anatolia was consequently divided into the portion ofindependent establishments known as the Ghazi emirates. Osman tookcontrol of one of the emirates, deriving the name of the empire fromit. Osman then led his Turkish settlers against the Byzantines,managing to settle at the edge of the kingdom.

Theexpansion of the empire continued to occur after the death of thefounder when Orhan, the son of the founder extended his conquest intothe Balkan and the Eastern Mediterranean territory. The fall of Bursadue to the insurgence led to the decline of the Byzantine rule,allowing Orhan to make Bursa the capital of the Ottoman Empire.2After capturing the city of Thessaloniki from the Venetians, Ottomanboosted its rule in Europe by victory over the Serbians at Kosovo in1989, which also marked the end of the Serbian rule in the region.However, in their conquest, they received resistance in the form ofthe Battle of Nicopolis, which was unsuccessful in stopping thepowerful Ottoman rule.3After the extension of the rule to the Balkan region, it wasimportant that the empire seized control of Constantinople. However,there was to be a big challenge in their crusade, as Timur, leader ofthe Mongolian Turks led a resistance culminating into the Battle ofAnkara in 1402, much to the relief of the Byzantines who had beencompletely displaced by the Ottoman Turks. The civil war lasted for11 years, between 1402 and 1413 after Bayezid the First was capturedby the Mongolian Turks as a prisoner. The rise of Mehmet the first asthe sultan of the empire ensured a return of order and Ottoman power,bringing to an end what was called the Interregnum or the FetretDevri.4

Growthof the Ottoman Empire (1453-1566)

Afterexpansion of the empire to Europe and the capture of Constantinopleby Mehmed the Second, the sultan allowed autonomy of the OrthodoxChurch in return for them accepting the Ottoman rule. This waspreferable for them due to their bad relations with the Venetianrule. Due to major control of the major trade routes between Europe,Asia and North Africa, the empire flourished both economically andpolitically between the 15thand 16t century, under the guidance of a number of able sultans.However, there was competition from the Portuguese Empire over thedominance of the region. The conquest continued with annexing of theKingdom of Hungary by Suleiman the Magnificent followed by Vienna,Baghdad, Mesopotamia, Transylvania and Wallachia.5

Themerger between the French rule and the Ottoman Empire against theHabsburg rule allowed the Ottoman rule more power in Europe byseizing Esztergom in 1543 and Hungary. The conquest also covered theHorn of Africa, in particular Somali, which gave the Sultanate a goodedge in competing with the Portuguese over the control of the IndianOcean. By the end of Suleiman’s rule, the empire had a populationof 15 million people covering three continents.

Dueto obsolete military technology compared to the European forces,accompanied by internal religious and intellectual conservatism, theempire could not keep up with its expansion in the 17thcentury. Weak sultans allowed the stagnation of the empire, with theBattle of Vienna, marking the end of European expansion. Thediscovery of the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese in 1488 markedthe end of the Ottoman trade monopoly. The rise of the Catholicscoalition led by Philip the Second of Spain also crippled the Ottomanrule in the Battle of Lepanto, which also involved the. The Russian rise to power also posed a huge threat to the Sultanate, with theempire losing the port of Azov and allowing the Serbian re-assertionto power after the Austro-Russian-Turkish War between 1716 and 1738.The Belgrade Treaty ended the war in 1739.6


Beforethe initiation of the reforms in the 19thand 20thcentury, the sultanate has a very simple order of administrationcomprising of the military administration and civil administration.The Sultan was the hi9ghest organ of authority, with smallerauthoritative figures put according to a specific region. The statecontrolled the religion, as the main aim of the Ottoman Empire wasalso to expand the Muslim land. The house of Osman commanded thelongest rule in the empire, therefore serving as the unequaled andunprecedented lineage in the whole region. It could only drawcomparison to the House of Habsburg that had enjoyed such a longreign, which had spun between seven centuries.7

Thesultan, otherwise known as the Lord of Kings, was the all-powerfulperson, who also helped the position of the caliphate, which was thehighest position in the Muslim religion. Although he did notnecessarily have complete power over everything, the sultan was stillthe embodiment of the empire’s government.8A Divan, a council of ministers and advisors in the politics of thestates, where the delegation was necessary, assisted the sultan.

Afterthe Young Turk revolution, the Ottoman Empire changed from anabsolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, which cut theexecutive powers of the sultan. There was a parliament comprising ofrepresentatives from the various provinces forming the imperialgovernment of the empire.9


TheOttoman rule revolved a set of religious laws called Sharias, whichco-existed along a set of secular laws called Qanun, which helped theempire organize itself around a system of local jurisprudence. Theselaws were centered on the law of land, which allowed the localauthority land for the needs of the local millet. The Muslim,Non-Muslim and Trade courts formed the judiciary system. Thenon-Muslim courts were presided over by Jewish and Christianreligious leaders, according to the demands of their specificreligions. However, these courts were not exclusive, as the Muslimcourts, which were the principle courts, were also allowed to solvetrade issues. In addition, the non-Muslims laws could seekclarification on the verdicts from the Muslim courts.10

TheIslamic legal system consisted of a Judge or a Qadi tended to followmore of the traditions and practices of the specific region, comparedto the state laws. However, these courts lacked an appellatestructure. This allowed plaintiffs to move their cases from one courtto another until they arrived at verdicts that were in their favor.11

Afterthe reforms, the court system borrowed much from the French models,with the adoption of the three-tiered court system. A council laidout different responsibilities specified for the religious courts,and specific cases that were to be handled by the civil courts,called the Nizamiye.12


Thegovernment of the Ottoman Empire formulated and implemented policiesthat saw the growth of Burs, Adrianople and Istanbul as majorcommercial and industrial center, as they served as the capitals inthat succession. The government also appreciated that merchants wereinstrumental in building an economically strong empire. The main aimof the government was to gain more revenue without hurting thesocioeconomic state of the subjects and creating a disruption in thesocial stratification. The chancery and the treasury containedscribal bureaucracy, highly trained ulama, which evolved into ahighly professional body handling the finances of the empire.13

Theempire controlled the major trade routes, creating a monopoly thatforced the Portuguese and Spanish forces to look for new traderoutes. The state encouraged people to cultivate land, developedcommercial and industrial centers and fostered international tradethroughout its territory, allowing it to accumulate enough revenue toperform important economic functions of the government.

Duringthe 16thcentury, the population stood at more than 11 million. However,towards the start of the 19thcentury, the population had soared to 32 million, with 10 millionbeing European, 11 million from the Asian region and 3 million fromthe African provinces.

Turkishwas the official language. However, the well-educated people spokePersian. Arabia, Kuwait, North Africa, Iraq and Levant used Arabicand Somali was predominantly around the Horn of Africa. Due to thelow literacy level that stood at 3%, the ordinary subjects hiredinterpreters and scriber in order to communicate with thegovernment.14

Thefall of the Ottoman Empire

Aftermany attempts of failed constitutional reforms, the rise of the YoungTurks would mark the beginning of the fall and dissolution of theOttoman Empire. The civil strife allowed annexation of Bosnia andHerzegovina by Austria-Hungary, followed by the loss of the BalkanWars in 1913. During the First World War, the Russian Caucasus Armyadvanced into Armenia, supported by the Ottoman Armenians. This ledto a widespread massacre of the Armenians by the government.15Additionally, the Arab Revolt dealt a blow to the Ottoman rule in theMiddle Eastern region, which was one of their strongholds within thefirst two years of the war. The sultanate was abolished in 1922 afterthe Turkish War of Independence granted Turkey independence underMustafa Kemal Ataturk. The national assembly declared Turkey arepublic in 1923, forcing the last sultan, Mehmed the Sixth to leavethe country. The caliphate was abolished the following year on March3.16


Davison,Roderic H. Reformsin the Ottoman Empire, 1856-1876. Princeton,NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Fromkin,David.A Peace to end all Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and Creationof the Modern Middle East.Macmillan, 2001.

Gocek,Fatma Muge. Riseof the Bourgeoisie. Demise of the Empire. Ottoman Westernization andSocial Change.New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Inalcik,Halil, and Donald Quataert, eds.An Economic Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1914.Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Quataert,Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge University Press,2008.

1 Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

2 Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

3 Ibid

4 Ibid

5 Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

6 Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

7 Ibid

8 Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

9 Ibid

10 Ibid

11 Inalcik, Halil, and Donald Quataert, eds. An Economic Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1914. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

12 Davison, Roderic H. Reforms in the Ottoman Empire, 1856-1876. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963.

13 Inalcik, Halil, and Donald Quataert, eds. An Economic Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1914. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

14 Inalcik, Halil, and Donald Quataert, eds. An Economic Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1914. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

15 Fromkin, David. A Peace to end all Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and Creation of the Modern Middle East. Macmillan, 2001.

16 Gocek, Fatma Muge. Rise of the Bourgeoisie. Demise of the Empire. Ottoman Westernization and Social Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.